Posted tagged ‘nuclear weapons’

The North Korean Test

April 15, 2017

Is it Deja Vu all over again? The Trump Administration appears to be facing a similar “going nuclear” threat former President George W Bush saw before invading and occupying Iraq. There are some key differences, however. North Korea is already nuclear so there is no need to doctor the intelligence reports. Hmmm.

North Korea appears to be its own worst enemy. North Korea runs a bizarre isolated State where there is the Kim family and a close group of associates and everyone else. Starvation and deprivation are common conditions while the elite eat well and the country spends billions upon armaments and nuclear research. But what separates North Korea from other two bit authoritarian States is its willingness to tell the world of its plans. Irrational maybe but secretive, not.

If one plays along with the North Korean narrative, one should expect to see North Korea soon with tactical nuclear bombs and delivery devices (submarines and intercontinental rockets) capable of reaching any country who threatens North Korea (read US). What then one might ask?

Does anyone think North Korea could survive and exchange of nuclear bombs? Does anyone think the US would sue for peace if attacked by North Korea? Don’t think so.

So, if that is North Korea’s stated strategic intent (nuclear weapons and delivery systems), to what end would this capability be put? Does North Korea still seek to unite the Korean peninsula under their leadership? And would that be the end or would there be further territorial targets, like pay back goals such as attacking Japan or Russia?

Who knows what evil lurks in men’s minds?

One can see even better now what a poor example the Iraq Invasion and Occupation serves. To be sure a nuclear capable Iraq would have been a highly destabilizing factor in the Middle East. But the Iraq War was never really about potential nuclear weapons, there were none. The Iraq War was about enormously misguided neoconservative views about establishing a democracy in the heart of Arab fiefdoms, a shining light so to speak in a dark part of the world. The Iraq War would also show the rest of the world how powerful the US was and consequently make it much easier for the US to exert its will in other trouble spots. Oh, if that had been true?

North Korea is much different, or is it? What might happen if the US (even with China’s tacit approval) launched a pre-emptive attack. What if, as a result of this attack, there was regime change. What might follow? Would there emerge a lawless State bent on disrupting everyday life in South Korea or even China, sort a pirate like Asian Somalia.
Or would the US (and South Korea and Russia) accept Chinese occupation of the North in order to provide law and order. Or if one is really dreaming, would China (and South Korea and Russia) accept US occupation?

Hmmm.

This is the mess facing President Trump. Clearly North Korea is a failed State and if magic could rule, North Korea should be transformed into a peaceful nation. But there is no plan or expectation of this positive outcome at this time.

So, does the Trump Administration just watch and hope for the best? Does the Trump team work on China in hopes of forming a combined effort to change North Korea’s behavior? And what role, if any, does Russia play?

Logic would demand that the three great powers work together and resolve the North Korean threat. North Korea’s nuclear weapons could be aimed at anyone. But working together requires trust and tell me how much trust exist betweens Russia, China, and the US at present?

Arguably the North Korea Test is one the Trump Administration is least able to handle. President Trump has a career of “bullying” tactics, followed by a deal, followed by selective reneging. Is that the type of person Russia and China might want to make a deal?

Consequently, the Trump Administration is left with a “wait and hope” that China can/will apply more pressure on North Korea so that North Korea voluntarily muzzles its provocative statements and puts into moth balls its current efforts to weaponize its nuclear capability. The North Korean Test, far more than the Syrian civil war, teaches the basics of, like it or not, the US cannot be an isolationists (America first), and being a globalist is an extremely difficult act.

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Great Decision or Great Mistake?

November 25, 2013

Looking back in recent history, the George W Bush White House followed the “negotiate from strength” position.  The style holds that no matter what the issue, the other side is wrong.  Employing this option, one either ignores the other side’s request to negotiate, or presses its opinion with unreachable demands.  This approach makes little progress in resolving disputes, and as seen in Iraq, can get it terribly wrong.  It does, however, play well with domestic political realities.

President Obama has followed a much different foreign policy approach.  The Obama White House has steered carefully away from confrontations for which options would be most likely military force.  (Syria is one example where Obama almost got trapped into military action only to be saved by Russian intervention.)

Iran now presents a mighty challenge.  The Bush Administration stayed clear of any thing close to military action relying instead on unilateral (read not too effective) sanctions and name calling.  Bush acted tough but even chicken hawks like Dick Cheney had little stomach for another conflict after having had their lunch handed to them in Iraq.

Now a six month agreement has been negotiated with Iran by a coalition of countries.  This represents a small step forward… maybe.  To Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it represents a great mistake.  If you haven’t been keeping current with the news, tune in and listen to “friends of AIPAC and Israel” parrot Netanyahu’s words.

The gist of the agreement is that for 6 months, Iran will cease enriching uranium.  During this period negotiators will seek to find a more permanent arrangement where presumably the West is assured that Iran will no longer conduct work leading to nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu says “won’t happen”, “can’t happen”, because Iran’s never tell the truth.  Hmmm.

Just as with Saddam Hussein who said Iraq had no WMDs, Iran might be serious about reaching an agreement.  Iran may also just be buying time.  With Iraq the Bush “negotiators” went directly to war and subsequently found out Hussein had been telling the truth.  Following Netanyahu’s advice would have only one outcome… war.

The Iranian nuclear programs are a very serious matter.  On one hand it is highly unlikely that Iran would use a nuclear weapon as a first strike tool.  But most experts predict that other Middle East countries will panic and seek to acquire nukes for themselves.  With the instability we see today in the Middle East, the prospect of multiple nuclear capable countries is not a pretty picture.  No one can predict how such a situation might play out.

So why is Netanyahu acting so obstinate?

Like with “W”, he is playing what he thinks is his best domestic political hand.  Most Israelis do not trust Iran (for many good reasons).  But Netanyahu’s tactics also has the advantage that if this six month agreement does work, he wins too.  If negotiations go bad, Netanyahu can say “see I told you so”, and expect now more support for military action.

The take home message, since no one knows for sure how further negotiations will fair, is to give President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry some room.  If it is war we want, then the “great mistake” will lead us there too.  If it is the avoidance of war (at least for a while), then lets keep talking.

This is not a “peace in our time” speech.  This is a “we do not need a Middle East war at this time” speech.

 

The Sound Of Reason

November 12, 2013

Last evening, Robert Gates, former CIA Director, Secretary of Defense, and holder of many other leadership positions including President of Texas A&M, spoke in Philadelphia.  In short, he was great.  He spoke clearly and straight forward.  He sprinkled in some insightful humor which both made one laugh and think.  Gates is on a speech giving circuit and if he comes to your city, try and see him.  You won’t be disappointed.

This was not just a light hearted evening.  Gates highlighted his years of service and the men he had served with.  President Reagan was the best, and Presidents Nixon and Carter seemed tied for the least redeeming.  The “take home” observations, however, involved the dysfunction of Congress and the seemingly intractable situation with Iran.

Gates, when asked if Congress was unethical, replied he thought they were no more so than most previous Congresses.  Rather, he said, Congress suffered from too many members who viewed their Congressional service as a “career”.  As such, all decision Congress members make are colored with how they align with reelection plans.  Forgotten is how decisions impact the Country, especially in the long term.

His Iran comments underscored Congress’ weakness.  Iran or Persia as it has been known historically is set upon being the dominant State in the region.  Iran has concluded this means they must possess nuclear weapon capability if not outrightly having them.  The fact that most of the rest of the world does not want nuclear weapons to spread makes no difference to the Iranians.  Just look at North Korea on one hand, and Iraq and Libya on the other hand.  Those with survive, those without perish.

But what to do, cautioned Gates, was a huge problem.  Preventive military intervention like a missile attack might slow the Iranians down but in the end they would rededicate themselves and put their nuclear facilities deeper underground.

Negotiating would almost certainly prove fruitless.  Iranians are great negotiators, Gates said, and they would string out talks until they had what they wanted.

With both the US and Israel having drawn lines in the sand, war looks inevitable (since Gates believed Iran would build nuclear weaponry).  War, however, would open Pandora’s box with the reactions of other Middle East countries or the greater Muslim world not to be predicted.

Should Iran gain nuclear weapon capability and the West do nothing, many other Middle East countries would begin their own programs.  Soon nuclear weapons would be available like AK-47s.

Gates describe Iran as a critical problem with no obvious solution.  With Congress as dysfunctional as it is, the US is in a weak position to forge any plan that would unite other countries in a common stand.  This was the note upon which the evening closed.

Hmmm.

It was clear that Gates saw Congress as a much more important and urgent problem to solve than Iran.  Without Congress legislating rationally against a long term set of objectives the Country would become impotent.

As with Iran, Gates offered no new ideas on how to fix Congress, other than it was each of our responsibilities to try and do so.

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much, Me Think…

April 9, 2012

It seems a general rule that when some government denounces someone for writing or saying something, the truth usually lies close if not right on top of what that person has said or written.  Israel seems now to be trying to demonstrate this type of reaction one more time.

Gunter Grass wrote a poem titled “What Must Be Said”.  In this poem, Grass pointed out the apparent hypocrisy of both his native Germany and of Israel with respect to their public positions towards Iran.  In short, how can Israel denounce Iran’s efforts to build nuclear weapons (which Iran denies) when Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons (Israel neither confirms or denies), and how can Germany equip Israel with the means to deliver nuclear weapons by selling submarines?

The poem is about the hypocrisy and the horrors of war.  In no way is it an endorsement of Iran or its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Israel’s reactions has been swift and furious.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly weighed in elevating a poem to an international issue.  Now, Israel’s Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, has announced that Grass is not welcome to visit Israel.  All of this reaction for a poem saying what most people think a bit compromised about Israel’s position.

To be sure, Israel does see Iran as an imminent threat.  They believe that Iran will not only use the weapons to attack Israel but they will proliferate them into the hands of even more irresponsible groups.  This concern is also held by most of the rest of the world including both Germany and the US.

What underscores this issue and makes one question the strength of Israel’s reaction is the current “no go” status of the negotiations with the Palestinians.  Israel has its own clear view of what is “right” in the Palestinian negotiations and a two State solution based upon the 1967 borders (even with agreeable swaps) is not part of it.

Grass, while not addressing the Palestinians, has pointed out a similar type of hypocrisy with possession of nuclear weapons.  Why should Israel not have to give up its nuclear weapons if the Iranians must?  For that matter, why should Israel not have to give back the West Bank (even with agreeable land swaps)?

Israel does not want to answer these questions and doesn’t like anyone asking.

Writing What Others Think?

April 7, 2012

Gunter Grass has opened the proverbial can of worms with his poem “What Must Be Said”.  Grass pointed out the hypocrisy Israel displays when it speaks of a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.  Grass also criticizes his native Germany for its condemnation of Iran and support of Israel including the sale of submarines.  The 84 year old writer has gained center stage one more time.

While there is no proof, most analyst believe Israel already possesses nuclear weapons.  Israel’s policy is not to confirm or deny its real capability.  It is this possibility that undercuts Israel’s position and its efforts to deny Iran nuclear capability as it previously did to Syria and Iraq.

Grass’s poem does not endorse Iran as an example of modern Statehood.  He simply says Germany should stop supporting one side in this Middle East struggle.  Amongst the “Western Allies”, this is not what any want to hear.

Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons (which they deny) does pose some dire threats to the Middle East and the rest of the world.  Proliferation of nuclear materials and weapons capability is feared by most others.  The question is why would a sane country do such a thing?  That begs the question, can Iran ever be considered a sane country?

Israel also carries another burden.  While Israel has been since its inception the point of numerous Arab attacks, the shoe has been on the other foot for some time.  The most basic burr with Arab neighbors remains Israel’s negotiation (or lack there of) position with the Palestinians.  With the two State solution off the tracks, Israel remains exposed to the charge that they take and do not give.  As a result, even a patently backward nation such as Iran can gain enough international sunlight to level charges against Israel.

Grass’ poem leads any thoughtful person to the conclusion that Israel should settle with the Palestinians and Iran should abandon its nuclear weapons research.  It is hard to see, however, how either outcome can result if that outcome is the only one to occur.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s angry words denouncing Grass offer the strongest indication that Grass has struck very close to the truth.

Do You Hear The Drum Beat? What Does It Mean?

February 4, 2012

News reports this past week in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have reported ominous news about Iran.  One report said Iran “operatives” might strike American interests overseas and even within the US boarders.  Another report described the recent disaster at an Iranian missile development site.  According to Israeli sources this week, the site was developing missile which would have had an effective range of 6000 miles.  That would be enough to reach the US mainland.  What’s behind these reports?

A few weeks back reports indicated that Israel felt the time was now to strike preemptively.  Their targets would be suspected Iranian nuclear development sites.  This week’s headlines read, “Iran authorizes help for al Qaeda” reporting that Iran had released a number of senior al Qaeda leaders.  The report suggested Iran had given assistance (money and weapons) to these radicals and implied pointed them in the US’s direction.  What are we to make of this?

For sure these reports could be simply what they literally say.  They are just reports.  They are speculation regardless of their sources. Or, could there be more?

Iranian Government officials, of course, read US newspapers.  Could it be these are articles planted for Iranian consumption?  Could the US be thinking that sanctions coupled with this “we know what you are doing” message just like in the run up to invading Iraq, that Iran would modify its behavior?

More frighteningly, could these drum beats be the real warm up for a new invasion?  Could the Obama Administration be willing to play with fire?  Spreading the word about Iran’s threat and using it to build fear within Americans?  Fear is perfect for asking for war powers.  It has also been a useful tool to reelect a President.  Hmmm.

Personally, I am reluctant to believe President Obama would stoop to fear mongering tactics to get reelected.  Who knows?

We do know Iran is a bad actor in the Middle East neighborhood.  A nuclear Iran with 6000 miles rockets represents a threat to a lot more than just the US.  This type of threat provides only the faintest of rational reasons for the US to be stoking the fires of war.  For Israel, however, the danger is much closer and potentially far more deadly.  These recent reports do have the touch of Israel’s hidden hand.

Actively taking steps for an Iranian invasion is not the answer.  Events could push US actions over the edge.

The President’s stated position that the US will protect Israel if it is attacked is one that previous Administrations have held.  It seems reasonable and justified.  A missile or worse, a nuclear attack on Israel will bring a quick end to Iran and they know it.

The wisest US set of tactics are the ones now in play.  Push for world consensus.  Strangle Iran with financial sanctions until its policies change.  As with the cold war, no bullets need to be spent.  Running out of money will ultimately change the mind of a country with no natural enemies remaining.  Running out of money will speak louder than Allah.

What Did They Say?

November 13, 2010

Last Wednesday, a newly formed dynamic duo wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times.  This team was as strange as the subject.  I wonder whether the Wall Street Journal had first choice and decided this was simply ridiculous?

I am speaking of a column headed “Why Rush to Cut Nukes”.  The authors were John R Bolton and John Yoo.  They wrote to caution the Senate to reject or seriously amend the Start II treaty between the US and Russia.  Their breathless request sought to stop any changes to the US nuclear strike capability during these dangerous times.  I wonder whether people pay them to think of unreal things like that.

To put this in perspective, if the US decided to use one of its nuclear war heads everyday, after ten years of explosions, we would still possess enough to destroy any enemy.

And, tell me which country poses such a threat that we need to retain this overwhelming number of nukes?  Which country would any President drop the big bomb on should some extremists manage to explode a “dirty” bomb on US land?  Or, are these two dim light bulbs thinking that we would nuclear carpet bomb China to help our balance of payments?

Disarmament is always a tricky deal.  “I’ll cut one if you cut one.  OK, you go first”  Except in this situation the US possesses so many nuclear weapons that some reasonable number of US cuts, if not followed by the Russians, would make no difference in our overall capability.

Our friend Johnny Bolton is no stranger to “carrying a big stick”.  His life has been defined by the cold war and having a strong enemy for the US to face.  When the Soviet Union collapsed, Bolton’s life was in shambles.  His co-author for this piece is also no stranger but new to this type of subject.  John Yoo is better know as “torture is when the pain is like organ failure” and “waterboarding is not torture”.  Yoo wrote the infamous torture memos President Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld hid behind when they marched the US down this dismal path.  How this lawyer became a weapons expert is unknown.

In a free society, free expression is a core element.  Bolton and Yoo certainly have a right to their opinion.  Americans need only do the math to see their position is baseless.